And Now to Rededicate . . .
Since the DBA Inaugural on January 19, I have been gratified at the response of so many of you toward doing pro bono work. Some of you have indicated an interest in taking your first case and others of you are expanding your pro bono activities to include cases in areas of law that are new to you. Bravo to all of you who have accepted the challenge of providing legal services to someone who would otherwise be denied access to our legal system. Let’s keep up our efforts to increase pro bono work and decrease the number of people who need our help.
While it would be great if every lawyer fulfilled the State Bar’s aspirational goal of performing 50 hours of pro bono work each year, unless or until this goal is made mandatory it is not likely to happen. But that does not mean our lawyers are not giving back to the community in other ways. Many lawyers prefer to provide services to the community and the profession in areas other than direct legal service, both through the bar association and otherwise. So if you are looking for an opportunity to give back, look no more—the Dallas Bar has volunteer opportunities for everyone.
There is not space in this column to describe all of the volunteer projects and programs available to DBA members but I would like to mention a few notable opportunities. The first one that comes to mind is the DBA Home Project. Over 20 years ago I was trying to convince a new associate to take a pro bono case. She resisted and said that she would like to volunteer for a project that did not involve the practice of law. I immediately suggested that she contact Rex Spivey, who was then heading up the DBA Home Project. Little did I know at that time that the Home Project would become the longest running, whole-house Habitat program in the Dallas area.
In 1989 the bar association started its now long-standing relationship with the Habitat for Humanity program. This spring the DBA will build its 22nd house. The Home Project was one of the first programs initiated by the bar’s Community Involvement Committee. The committee was the brainchild of Al Ellis, who was president of the bar in 1990. The committee came up with the idea of bar members funding and building a Habitat home. But according to Al, not everyone thought attorneys would be interested in rolling up their sleeves and swinging a hammer, let alone contributing money to build an entire house. But Al and a few of his friends, including Rex and Stephanie Hughes, were determined to do something special and permanent for the community. Thus the Home Project began and has now become an institution of the Dallas Bar. Firms and individuals annually contribute to the cost of the home and dozens of lawyers, law firm staff and members of their families come out and actually build a home alongside of the new homeowners. It is pretty amazing when you think about it. If you have never participated in the Home Project, you should consider doing so. It is a great way to give back to the community and it is a lot of fun. You can find information about the project on the DBA website.
Another program that benefits members of the community, as well as the bar, is the Lawyer Referral Service (LRS). The LRS program is overseen by the LRS Committee. This program refers people who contact the bar looking for legal assistance to a lawyer qualified in the area of practice that the person needs. The LRS Committee is also working on a reduced fee program that would help address the need for legal services for the working poor. Lawyers who want to become a member of the LRS panel are required to demonstrate a certain level of expertise in the area in which they wish to receive referrals. They also must pay a fee and carry malpractice insurance covering their area of expertise. This program provides a tremendous service to the public and also to the bar. If you are interested in learning more about or becoming a member of the LRS panel, you can find information about the requirements and how to apply to be a member of the panel online at www.dallasbar.org/dallas-lawyer-referral-service or by calling the LRS program assistant at the Dallas Bar. You can also get information about how to join the committee by contacting the bar.
If you are interested in a volunteer opportunity that directly benefits the profession, you might want to consider becoming a mentor in the Transition to Law Program. This program was conceived by Justice Douglas Lang of the Fifth District Court of Appeals. Justice Lang saw the need for young lawyers (especially those newly minted lawyers who are hanging out their own shingles) to be mentored by more seasoned lawyers. The program matches a young lawyer with an experienced lawyer who practices in the area in which the young lawyer is or wants to practice. The formal mentor relationship lasts for one year, during which the participants (both mentor and mentee) attend six CLE programs designed to teach the young lawyers the things that they might not have learned in law school about the practice of law. During the year the mentors and mentees are also encouraged to get together during the time between the CLE programs and talk about the profession. This gives the young lawyer an opportunity to get candid advice on issues he or she may be facing as a new lawyer. This program is in its sixth year and by all accounts has been very successful. It is a learning experience for both the mentors and the mentees. And while the program is designed to last only a year, in many instances the relationship established between the participants continues well beyond that first year. The program is in need of additional mentors. If you are interested in becoming a mentor, please contact Alicia Hernandez at email@example.com.
The DBA also offers a number of other mentoring programs designed to help DISD students. If you are interested in working with a DISD student or working on one of the DISD/bar association partner programs, you can contact Amy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org. The bar also sponsors annual school supply, clothing and food drives in which you may want to participate. Watch your monthly Headnotes and the DBA Online for information about these programs.
I want to highlight one more program that is designed to directly benefit members of the bar and that is the Peer Assistance Program organized by the Peer Assistance Committee. This program helps lawyers who are stressed, depressed, suffering from drug or alcohol abuse or mental illness to find needed resources to get help. The goal of the Peer Assistance Committee is to educate our legal community to the signs of depression, addiction and other mental illnesses and to provide information regarding resources where attorneys can get help, particularly through the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program (1-800-343-8527). As you may know, suicide is a growing problem in our profession. Many of you may have known a colleague who committed suicide due to depression or other illness or you may have been touched by a colleague who suffers from clinical depression, anxiety, substance abuse or other mental health issues. We owe it to each other to raise awareness of the signs of these problems and to educate ourselves on the resources available to help our fellow lawyers. These are issues which impact all of us and are of grave concern to both the Dallas Bar and the State Bar. Please watch for and attend the Peer Assistance Committee programs and let us know if you would like information about available resources or if you would like to participate on the committee.
The projects and volunteer opportunities mentioned above are just a few of the dozens of programs available to Dallas Bar members. While I would encourage everyone to do pro bono work, I respect the fact that many lawyers desire to spend their precious volunteer time doing something other than what they do every day for a living. Whatever your interests, I hope that each of you will rededicate yourselves to projects in which you are currently involved or will seek out a new opportunity to serve our community and our profession.